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A Celebration of the Jeep Forward Control

Posted in Events on November 28, 2016 Comment (0)
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For many years, collectors and fans of the ’57-’65 Jeep Forward Control (FC) were in the “few and proud” category. Not any more. Jeepers in general are taking notice and the FC’s obscure status has been elevated to near-stardom by more collectors joining the ranks, and further bolstered by Jeep (FCA) recently producing a fully functional homage Jeep, the Mighty FC concept vehicle. Now it seems as if FCs are being dragged out of the weeds everywhere and restored to the former glory.

The once semi-formal FC event held in Arizona has been energized by this growth in the vehicle’s popularity as well. For many years, Jesse and Andrea Ybarra’s Phoenix Jeep Forward Control Roundup invitational event was the largest FC gathering. Jesse has long been considered the FC’s “keeper of the flame” and motivational guru, but his event has grown to the point where he must consider passing the torch. Jesse recently announced he would retire from hosting the event in 2020, eliciting a “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” reaction from his many well-earned friends in the community. His goal is now to promote other FC events and help them grow so there will be no void in the FC continuum.

This is one of the rigs most people were here to see. Dan Devries’ M-677 Crew Cab pickup is restored back to USMC splendor. During much of the event, you could hear the knocky, buzzsaw-like sound of the three-cylinder Cerlist diesel as it ran around the grounds giving rides and killing mosquitoes. There were a few hills and dales nearby to play on.

Stepping into the breach is Dan Horenberger, a longtime mover and shaker in the FC world, and a guy that just may have the largest known collection of FCs. Dan is a world-renowned restorer of vintage carousels and recently opened a new facility in Marengo, Illinois, that also provided a perfect venue for FC fans to gather. The 2016 inaugural invitational event was called the Military FC Gathering, a very low-key title for the largest number of military (M-Series) FCs congregated in a single place since the ’60s when the Navy and Marine Corps operated FCs.

There were 36 FCs in attendance for the two-day event, plus a dozen or so other Jeeps, and more than 130 people. On the M-Series FC front, there were eight M-677 crewcab pickups, two M-678 Carryalls, two ultra-rare M-679 Ambulances, and one M-676 pickup. These were specially built diesel-powered rigs ordered by the Navy and Marine Corps. You can learn more about military FCs in our M-Series 101 feature.

A similar 2017 FC Event is planned, and more of the ultra-rare M-Series FCs will be in attendance in Marengo. The exact date had not been set at our press time, but look to mid-late September as a general date and check in regularly at the FC Connection website (thefcconnection.com) for more information and updates.

Running or not, restored or not, built or bone stock, all FCs were welcome at the 2016 Military FC Gathering, held in Marengo, Illinois.

In Sweden, a line of FC Carryall conversions were given the nickname “Marilyn” (after Monroe) by Swedish Press. This big stuffed bear, wearing a shockingly revealing swimsuit, is the physical manifestation of Marilyn and owner Dan DeVries cozied up.

In 1964, Streamline Trailer Company built a prototype motorhome using the front section of a Jeep FC-170 mated to its 23-foot “Duchess” trailer. Originally, it was powered by Jeep’s 226ci inline-six with a three-speed behind it. The transfer case was locked into four-wheel High and powered the rig from the Dana 44 front axle alone, while a trailer axle carried the rear without power. The company was all set to go with a similar production setup when Jeep pulled the plug on the FC. Streamline went on to build some similar rigs using Hanomag 4x4 trucks. The Jeep prototype was sold to a Streamline employee, who later sold it to someone who kept it until 2009, when Dan Horenberger found it and added it to his collection. If you were a visitor to Pismo Beach in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, you may have seen this rig pulling a sand rail. Long ago, it was repowered with an Oldsmobile V-8 to help it go down the road a little better.

The Forward Controls became popular for conversions to fire trucks. Here are four FC fire truck conversions, starting with a very rare ’58 FC-150 on the left with a John Bean conversion. This may be the smallest truck Bean ever converted. Second from left is another John Bean on a ’59 FC-170 SRW chassis that was used on Bois-Blanc Island, Michigan, for many years. Next is a ’61 FC-170 SRW with a Valley Fire Truck conversion. On the far right is an unknown year FC-170 DRW with a BRUCO body.

A Jeepy boat? Here’s the connection. Brooks Stevens is largely responsible for the styling work on the Forward Control Jeep (and other iconic Jeeps) and many other designs over the years, including boats. This is one he did for Owens in the ’50s, fins and all. From all appearances, this is a 16-foot Owens Speedship from about 1958.

Dennis Riggs’ ’61 FC-170 DRW four-speed is the last of 196 built that year. The DRW models were available in 8,000 and 9,000 GVWRs, the main difference being the T-90A three-speed trans on the lower rated truck versus the T-98 four-speed in the higher. The three-speeds had a “-13” after the 61568 model prefix and the four-speeds had a “-15.” Both were powered by the 226ci Super Hurricane flathead six. Dennis’ truck is still used on the farm for hauling and winching, with a custom-built, modern looking winch bumper added. The stakeside bed dumps using dual hydraulic cylinders. Another unusual feature is the Standard Cab with no rear corner windows. For whatever reason, the overwhelming majority of surviving FCs have Deluxe Cabs.

This is likely the world’s fastest Jeep Forward Control. Members of John Conway’s family owned a Jeep dealership in Evanston, Illinois, and Jeeps of all types were family lore and legend. When a very distressed ’61 FC-150 came his way, it went in line for eventual restoration. After walking by it for a number of years, noting he had an extra 5.7L LS-1 Chevy engine and a pile with most of a C-4 Corvette’s suspension in it, a strange plan came to mind. The end result is this. The LS-1 produces at least 400 hp and is backed up by a 4L60 automatic. The suspension is from the aforementioned C-4 (’80s-era) Corvette. The FC has 62 percent of its weight (about 3,000 pounds) over the front wheels, even with the original 265-pound FC rear cast-iron weight installed. Yeah, it tends to understeer a bit, but does well in autocrosses. With a plush comfortable interior, it’s nice to drive until it gets hot outside. John couldn’t figure how to make an AC system work in the FC cab.

This restored ’58 FC-170 with a 9779 Gem-Top cap belongs to Dan Horenberger. With a 7,000-pound GVWR, the SRW FC-170 was a workhorse. The only available engine was the 226ci Super Hurricane (a rebadged Continental Red Seal) and a three-speed T-90 was standard. Optional was the T-98 four-speed. This one has an uncommon Koenig King Model F198T PTO winch, which differs from a standard a standard King Winch of the era by having an additional drum shaft bracket.

The “oddfellows” area contained some very interesting sights. Near the FC Motorhome, were two C101 Jeepster Commandos: Pat Hughes’ stunning ’67 8701 two-tone Convertible, and Dennis Caraway’s very rare ’71 SC-1 resplendent in Butterscotch. The other? Well, it’s a “forward control,” but not a Jeep. Horenberger’s lust for oddballs led him to an early ’50s military prototype from Chrysler, the T-23E1. It’s all-aluminum, has an air-cooled aircraft engine, automatic transmission, and independent suspension. Two were built, and this is the only survivor.

A tale of two military FCs: On the left is Dan DeVries’ restored M-677 CrewCab pickup, on the right an unrestored one owned by Dan Horenberger. Because of the scarcity of parts, the more obscure FC models are advanced restorations. That’s why many you see here are unrestored and waiting their turn. Much of the FC’s mechanical stuff is common Jeep fare, though the M-Series rigs have a number of hard-to-find mechanical parts. It’s bodywork that poses the biggest obstacle and virtually nothing is repopped. And of course, Jeeps never rust.

The first versions of the FC-150 in 1957 and into 1958 were built using what amounted to a CJ-5 chassis—81-inch wheelbase and 48.4-inch wheel track included. You don’t have to be a Jeep-genius to figure that this is going to be one unstable rig. We can only imagine this path came from the penny-pinchers at Jeep. By May 1958, the FC-150s were rolling off the line with a 57-inch track, as well as a stouter Dana 44 front axle.

The FC-150 made a very nice compact pickup. They were a seemingly brilliant way of maximizing cargo space while minimizing overall vehicle size. It wasn’t an unknown idea but there was an industry “why didn’t we think of that” reaction that resulted in forward control models from several of the major light truck manufacturers. Like the Jeep FC, they weren’t exactly a sales flop, but the long-term numbers didn’t justify keeping them in production. What set the Jeep apart from the rest was four-wheel drive, but it didn’t help much to keep them on the market.

Another in Dan Horenberger’s vast stable of FCs is this Glenwood Green Metallic ’57. The FC-150’s bed was a bit more than 6-feet long, and the standard payload was just more than 1,700 pounds, making it a true 1/2-ton truck. The turning circle was only 18 feet, beating all the other shortbed half-tons. And it had four-wheel drive, an option that hadn’t really appeared much in the light truck world yet. This one also has a drawbar on it, something more common on a CJ.

The cast iron rear weight was a bandaid to mask the Narrow-Track FC-150s’s odd handling quirks. It remained on the later models to counter the nose-heavy attitude.

The FC-150 made a compact tow truck, this one using a Canfield Model 107 wrecker on the rear platform. Rated for 10,000 pounds, the kit included overload springs for the FC-150 and a transfer case PTO that powered the boom winch via a chain through a hole that was cut into the bed. This one also mounts a snowplow hoist up front. The Ford hubcaps are obviously not original.

Many folks took a ride in and with Marilyn, the Swedish Van. After all, it was designed as a people hauler. Look elsewhere in this issue for a story on this van and video online at the Four Wheeler Network.

Among the more rare of the military variants are the M-678 Van/Carryall. This one has been rescued and is waiting for its turn at restoration. Like almost all the other M-series FCs, it is Cerlist-diesel powered, and was used by the Marines and the Navy.

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